Looking for the Green Box

Recently, a group of KPBSD teacher leaders met at a statewide conference to learn more about being educational leaders in their district and schools.  We followed up on that conference with the group to discuss how to take what they learned and implement it at their schools.  I was so impressed with the level of engagement of this group and their commitment to improving their craft!  The activities we participated in showed me that we have excellence in our ranks and it is important to support this groups overall leadership capacity.  This would also strengthen our collaboration efforts by having teachers direct it.

So, what is this “look for the green box” all about?  Well, at the meeting a teacher suggested we fully utilize our technology to promote collaboration.  We have Skype for Business in place and available for all of our staff across this district which can allow for an “anytime, anywhere” meetings to improve our instructional practices.  Our Skype program allows others to see the availability of an individual.  A green box by an individual’s name means they are available, thus just look for a “green box” to collaborate! We have a handful of teachers regularly communicating in this manner by asking quick questions, but the potential is so much greater.

Our district has so many pockets of excellence we must commit to sharing what works so that all students get a great education every day.  Yes, using video conferencing to collaborate takes time and some planning, but that investment will pay dividends for our students through improved instruction.  There is so much changing in education and in our world that it has become virtually impossible for an individual teacher to meet every expectation in isolation.  The paradigm must shift from the concept of one teacher, teaching one subject, to one class, at one time, for one hour to the paradigm of one student accessing innovative practices and personalized learning.  This cannot be done in isolation and requires all of us to look for the “green box” to work together across our district with a growth mindset.

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KPBSD Preparation and Commitment in times of uncertainty

 

KPBSD logo 4c teaching with innovation and collaboration

 

As we begin the budget process for KPBSD, many concerns are being raised about potential cuts and program losses.  Educators in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will make our budget work to benefit our students. It will likely require thinking outside the box as far as instructional delivery goes, but we will provide a high quality education for our students no matter what the legislature and governor decide with the state budget and funding plan for the 2017-2018 school year, and into the future. Instruction and our schools may be different than they are now. We will be fully engaged in the process and we will plan for a variety of contingencies. Students are our priority—no matter what. Our communities must understand they need to be engaged and, more importantly, must understand all of the great things happening in our schools every day.

As we get past the election and closer to the legislative session it is easy to see how fluid the information coming from state leaders is about the upcoming budget. We have heard that funding for education will be reduced anywhere from 3% to 20% for fiscal year 2018, and have begun to look at the impacts of this type of potential revenue reduction to our schools and district. In addition, there is a lot of rhetoric from many different quarters about the value provided by public education. Regardless of what we may hear from leaders and others across the state, we want our communities engaged in the budget conversation.  Please remember that there can be a great deal of opportunity for improvement within this conversation.

The Governor will set the financial stage in December with his preliminary budget. I believe it will be based on a sustainable revenue plan so that ultimately the reductions to K-12 education will initially be small. However, I believe different scenarios will be included in the budget so the public will understand more severe options if various revenues are not considered. This is where you will hear about the larger cuts to education and other state departments and programs. Of course, the legislature will weigh in soon after the Governor, which could raise more questions, concerns, or anxiety.

As I have said, great things are happening in our schools every day.  Our students are engaged in a wide variety of community service projects around our district. We are experiencing significant improvement in our graduation rate even though funds are getting tighter. We are committed to collaboration between teachers and schools. We focus on data analysis and intervention for our students. We have implemented a blended, distance delivery model of instruction that is being closely examined by the state as a way to provide learning opportunities for all students.

It is important to keep in mind that regardless of the outcome of the State fiscal conversation, KPBSD staff is committed to provide the highest quality education for our students. We will find a way.  Some of that will require more community partnerships as a mechanism to provide learning opportunities for all children.  It will include a more effective use of technology.  Ultimately, our dedicated teachers, administrators and staff will provide the way to a high quality education and who are committed to each child’s learning.  This commitment will continue to develop students who are well prepared for their future and who will seek to become the future leaders in our State, Borough and District.

Links

KPBSD story: Input Needed to Solve the State and KPBSD Fiscal Crisis
KPSBD online “Budget” video channel with resources

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The First Lap

As we move through the school year, the 1st quarter has come to an end.  Some say the school year is a marathon, but it feels more like a mile race.  It feels long, but each lap actually goes by very quickly, especially when you are in shape and fully prepared.  Our staff is in shape and fully prepared.  We continue to see more of our staff recognized for their excellence, including two finalists for the Alaska Teacher of the year!  Congratulations go out to Stephanie Cronin of Seward HS and James Harris of Soldotna HS.  They are both excellent representatives of our district and truly deserve the recognition.

In visiting many of our schools during the first quarter, students are truly engaged in their learning.  It is wonderful to see students develop projects that benefit the community at large.  There are several fundraisers led by students and more students are providing their voice on many local boards.  I am so impressed with how our staff has worked to provide meaningful opportunities for our students.  We all work very hard to develop rigorous and relevant experiences that extend student learning to guide our students to meet much higher expectations.

As we move into the next “lap” of our school year, I know that our staff will continue its focus on what is best for students in the classroom.  We all will have many opportunities to demonstrate leadership, grit and persistence while dealing with many uncertainties at the state level.  I look forward to working with all of our stakeholders while our students continue to learn at high levels at our schools. As we know, the race is not given to the swift, but to those who endure to the end.

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Up and Running!

We are now 3 weeks into the school year and it looks like another successful start.  Our enrollment is slowly climbing to what we anticipated and our schools are focused on the 3 R’s – Rigor, Relevance and Relationships.  This is the time of year where there is a great deal of optimism.  My goal is to infuse optimism in our schools the entire year even though there will be significant challenges to be addressed.

Our budget process has already started and we are continuing to find efficient ways to serve students, parents and staff across the district.  Technology has been very helpful, especially with professional development.  We conducted our district-wide in-service electronically this year and the format was well received by staff.  As we refine this format, we anticipate that teachers will be able to collaborate and learn from each other using technology.  Travel and distance are no longer roadblocks to improving instruction.  We are also excited about how blended learning opportunities are becoming more prevalent in our classrooms.  Quality teaching is delivered everywhere to students which further enhances rigor and relevance for all.

As we move through the budgeting process, we look forward to hearing from all of our stakeholders to help our schools meet the funding challenges we are certain to encounter.  I look upon these challenges as opportunities to re-think how we do business and improve upon the already good system that we have in place.  I appreciate the opportunity to serve this school district and look forward to working with all of our stakeholders productively!

KPBSD logo 4c teaching with innovation and collaboration

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Welcome Back!

The start of a new school year is upon us!  The fireweed is almost open to the top and students will be back in class before we know it.  This year, KPBSD is going to update the long-term strategic plan.  This document is very important in framing the direction we will go to better educate our students.  Considering the immense changes coming in Alaska economically and the U.S. through the Every Student Succeeds Act, the update is very timely.  We will have the opportunity to develop a plan that will help our students grow while addressing some of the greatest challenges this state has ever experienced.  We will have the opportunity to build a great educational system for all of our students through a new federal law that offers much more local control.

Our focus right now is on making sure our students and staff gets off on the right foot on August 23rd.  Our long- term vision is to lead our schools and communities with confidence and optimism through uncertainty.  The key to this leadership is to listen, make decisions in the best interests of students and provide support to all during significant change.  While this may be the most challenging fiscal crisis in the history of Alaska, we can teach our children how to meet the challenge and succeed despite the obstacles and fear.  Our children are counting on us and this is a great opportunity to model for them how to turn problems into opportunities.  I am confident we will be able to continue to educate and prepare our students well for their future.

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Reflections and Planning

We are well into the summer time and many plans for the upcoming school year have already started. Before we jump into 2016-17, it is important to review what happened this past year.  Overall, our district has made progress toward personalizing learning for all students.  Learning does not stop when the school bell sounds.  It is something that happens any place and any time.  Our goal is to help children develop into life-long learners and stretch themselves so that they can improve.  Using technology as a tool to facilitate learning is important, but so is helping students develop the soft skills of persistence, communication, critical thinking and creativity.  By working to extend what is being taught in the classroom to life outside the classroom in meaningful ways, students will become more engaged and come away with a deeper understanding of the academic skills so important for college and careers. Our district is embarking on enhancing these opportunities for students, helping students develop a love for learning, and making sure the KPBSD diploma is a legitimate marker for success in life.  I am proud of what we accomplished this year and the value we have provided all of our students and communities.  We will continue to improve and look forward to another excellent year of meeting the needs of all of our students.

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Opportunity to Innovate, Communicate and Engage

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls, and looks like work.” Thomas Edison

The education community in Alaska has a lot of work ahead.  As a member of the education community, I am willing to put in that work and provide leadership because of all the opportunities that come with it.  We have a chance to shape our plan to meet the new (and somewhat unknown) requirements from the Every Student Succeeds Act.  We have a chance to address root concerns from some of our legislators about innovation, results, and supporting a sustainable fiscal plan.  We have a chance to tell the public education story – the same stories that give me hope about our state’s and country’s future.

As Thomas Edison said, we cannot miss these opportunities because of the work involved.  The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has dramatically improved graduation rates over the past several years.  The real story is that we have put a great deal of effort into differentiating instruction, developing positive relationships with kids and utilizing technology to expand learning outside of the school day.  Every bit of that is rooted in constant focus and effort to meet the individual needs of students.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has prioritized communication with all stakeholders with an emphasis on lasting impact our students have within their individual communities.  Whether it is students providing support to their peers in transition or students creating public service announcements to save future lives, we honor those accomplishments and make sure everyone understands the value of the entire system supporting these endeavors.  Again, it takes a great deal of effort and sometimes it seems like no one is listening.  Then the parent of a student in transition will call saying thanks or a businessperson following up on a story they read about involving one of our innovative, creative students.

As those small “wins” build, the voice of the education community builds.  With even more effort and leadership, the true value of public education in our state will gain more respect and recognition.  We have the opportunity to transform results and perceptions of public education.  It is time for the education community to roll up our sleeves, provide clear examples of value, share the immense amount of success we all have in our districts and engage in the process this fall and next legislative session.

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Transitioning

It is that time of the year where the district has a foot in two worlds.  We are working hard to have a strong finish to the current school year and at the same time prepare for next school year.  We are fortunate that we have a great staff at our schools who are working to stay in the present with their students.  We also have a great staff at the district who is able to support our school staff while putting together the framework for next year.  This can only be done through great effort and a commitment to process performance management.

Our district has many processes in place, with the most visible one being the budget process.  It is exceptionally transparent with many opportunities for input.  Another process we have in place that many people see on a regular basis is staffing.  We have staffing formulas in place to provide equity in our schools.  The goal is for like sized schools to have similar programs.  There is flexibility in what programs are offered where through community input.  From the district perspective, staffing is dedicated to struggling learners and programs geared toward personalization for student engagement.  In the end though, what is offered at individual sites is up to the school itself.

As we make the transition from this school year to the next, please work with your site principal on what is important to your community.  As we look to become more efficient, priorities must be set at each school.  Some decisions will be difficult, but individual community values are reflected in our schools.  I believe our diversity and site level management are the biggest strengths our district has to meet the individual needs of our children.

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Alaska Legislature

As we embark on one of the most important legislative sessions in the history of our state, it is important to remember all of the opportunities we have in front of us.  The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District (KPBSD) has many stories of excellence to share and I am certain that is true in all school districts in Alaska.  Now is the opportunity to share those stories in a meaningful way that will stick with our state leaders and communities.  Now is the time to gather local community leaders to be a part of telling these stories.

For example, many people living on the Peninsula are graduates of our system.  They are sending their sons and daughters to the same system which prepared them for their careers.  This is an important cycle to recognize and honor.  Also, while education and the expectations for students have increased over time, what students always remember is the great teacher or staff member who made a positive impact on them through a caring relationship.  These are the stories to tell – the collaboration between student and staff that made a difference.

To tell our tale, KPBSD is utilizing, what we call, Key Communicators.  This body is made up of over 80 leaders across our district, many of whom are KPBSD graduates.  These leaders let us know what we do well and, also, how to improve.  They are fostering our culture of continuous advancement and they understand the real impact public education has in their communities.  They are committed to engaging with schools and state leaders to tell the story of public education on the Peninsula.  Numbers and data only tell a part of the story.  Our Key Communicators will share KPBSD results through actual experiences of extended learning, positive relationships, and student projects of great impact.  It is with great pride that we are seeing how this group of leaders is taking the opportunity to tell our story.  The results of our communication effort will speak for themselves, especially as we see pride grow, within our communities, for the schools that serve them.

Although this is a challenging time for education, this challenge presents a great opening for us to shine.  Let’s make the very best of this opportunity by sharing with state decision makers, that which truly makes public education in Alaska excellent!

KPBSD and the Legislature webpage

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One Year

Today marks the one year anniversary of my stepping into the role of superintendent.  What a year it has been.  I have seen tremendous growth and commitment from our staff in the area of collaboration and continuous improvement.  We are slowly, but surely shifting the focus from basic skills to the 4 C’s – Critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity.  Not only was this year a transition for me, but also for the state and education in general.  New state-wide assessments have been implemented and it has been bumpy.  We believe in using data to improve instruction, but it should not be based on a single assessment.  Along with a variety of assessments, the assessments are dynamic and integrated within a lesson.  The most basic assessment is a verbal question that allows time for students to think, walk through a process of problem solving and receive immediate feedback. Assessments don’t have to be tests nor do they have to be high stakes.  I am looking forward to the efforts of our staff to create a more meaningful assessment and accountability system that provides students more relevance to improve learning.

Our district has always been focused on the individual student.  Through collaboration, a focus on continuous improvement and a commitment to establishing positive relationships with students, I have no doubt our district will take the next steps toward excellence and preparing students for their future.  This may have to be done with fewer resources in the near term, but it is the right thing to do for our kids.

I am looking forward to the next year in my tenure as superintendent of our fantastic school district!

KPBSD logo 4c teaching with innovation and collaboration

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